NASA InSight Landing on Mars: ‘7 Minutes of Terror’ Timeline

Artist’s impression of
NASA InSight’s entry, descent and landing at Mars, scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Kremer & RocketSTEM –25 November 2018

 If all goes well Mars will welcome get a new inhabitant in less than 24 hours when NASA’s newest probe to Mars, the InSight
lander is slated to make a soft touchdown on the Red Planet after she hopefully
survives the nail-biting ‘7 Minutes of Terror’ plummet from the top of the atmosphere to
the surface at an alien locale called ‘
Elysium Planitia’ to study the heart of Mars and its deep interior.

InSight only has one
chance to survive intact with soft landing due to take place  at
Elysium Planitia – a
sandy, flat plain
on the Red Planet around 2:54  p.m. EDT, 11:54 a.m. PST following a 7 month,
301 million mile (484 million km) interplanetary journey from Earth.

The harrowing process is known as EDL or Entry, Descent and Landing or more
popularly as the ‘7 minutes of Terror’ begins after
NASA’s InSight spacecraft  separates
from the cruise stage that brought the $830 Million mission to Mars at 
2:40 p.m. EST, 11:40 a.m. PST.  

The probe then rotates to orient the heat shield towards the Red Planet to
protect herself from beyond Red Hot temperatures.

EDL’s 7 minutes of Terror’ begins
as she hits the top of the atmosphere at
12,300 miles per hour (5.5
kilometers per second,
19,800 kph) and approximately 80
miles (about 128 kilometers)
 altitude above the Red Planet
at around
2:47 p.m. EST, 11:47 a.m. PST and blazes through
at temperatures reaching up to 2700 degrees F (1500 C) – enough to melt steel – while
protected from melting and utter destruction by the heat shield.  

EDL will slow InSight to about 5 MPH (8 kph) at
touchdown – concluding the ‘7 Minutes of Terror.’
Overall the
time it takes for EDL
to set a lander gently
on the surface of the Red Planet is less time than it takes to hard-boil an
InSight Mars lander on final approach
to the Red Planet moments before cruise stage separation

The EDL team is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, the
prime contractor for building the spacecraft.  

The entire EDL sequence is “preprogrammed to
perform a specific sequence of activities to make this possible” – with no
chance of human intervention since it takes about 8 minutes for radio signals
traveling at the speed of light to reach mission control on Earth.

So in fact the entire EDL process will have already
succeeded with a safe Red Planet touchdown or failed before the first signal is
even received back here on Earth.

InSight spacecraft approaches Mars in this artist’s concept.
Landing set for Nov. 26, 2018. 
Interior Exploration using
Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, or InSight, is a Mars
lander that probes the planet’s deep interior to shed light on the evolution of
Mars and the rocky planets of the solar system.  C

Engineer’s conducted a final Trajectory
Correction Maneuver known as TCM-6 late Sunday afternoon, Nov 25 to aim InSight
more precisely to the center of the landing ellipse – hoping to shift it about
10 miles west from what TCM-5 accomplished. 

The landing location is about 340
miles (550 kilometers)
from Gale Crater – where NASA’s Curiosity rover landed in 2012. 
The Mars Odyssey orbiter
took this image of the target landing site for NASA’s InSight lander at
Elysium Planitia, centered at about 4.5 degrees north latitude and 136 degrees
east longitude.
The landing ellipse covers an
area within which the spacecraft has about 99 percent chance of landing when
targeted for the center of the ellipse. It is about 81 miles (130 kilometers)
long, generally west to east, and about 17 miles (27 kilometers) wide.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

The spacecraft is on
course to study Mars deep interior and Marsquakes for the first time in human
history to elucidate how it evolved over 4.5 Billions years.  
That history has
been erased by natural progression and evolution on and inside Earth including plate tectonics and
erosion of our planet’s crust.  

“Some milestones will be known quickly only if
the experimental Mars Cube One
spacecraft are providing a reliable communications relay
from InSight back to Earth,” says NASA. 

“If all goes well, MarCO may take a few seconds
to receive and format the data before sending it back to Earth at the speed of
light. The one-way time for a signal to reach Earth from Mars is eight minutes
and seven seconds on Nov. 26.” 

“The primary communications path for InSight
engineering data during the landing process is through NASA’s Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey. Those data are expected to become
available several hours after landing.”

InSight is NASA’s
first mission to Mars surface in 6 years since the Curiosity rover safely touched
down by the skycrane maneuver in 2012 – to begin a minimum 2 year long mission to
study the heart of Mars and elucidate the deep interior of the Red Planet like never

Times listed below are in Earth Receive Time, or
the time JPL Mission Control may receive the signals relating to these

Here’s an illustrated
‘7 Minutes of Terror’ Timeline:

11:40 a.m. PST (2:40
p.m. EST) — Separation from the cruise stage that carried the mission to Mars

Illustration of InSight lander separating from its cruise stage
as it prepares to enter Mars’ atmosphere. InSight lander is on the right,
tucked inside a protective heat shield and back shell. The cruise stage with
solar panels is on the left.

·       11:41 a.m. PST (2:41
p.m. EST) — Turn to orient the spacecraft properly for atmospheric entry

11:47 a.m. PST (2:47
p.m. EST) — Atmospheric entry at about 12,300 mph (19,800 kph), beginning the
entry, descent and landing phase

11:49 a.m. PST (2:49 p.m.
EST) — Peak heating of the protective heat shield reaches about 2,700°F (about

15 seconds later — Peak
deceleration, with the intense heating causing possible temporary dropouts in
radio signals


11:51 a.m. PST (2:51
p.m. EST) —   Parachute Deployment of
39-foot-diameter (11.8-meter) supersonic parachute at a speed of
861 mph (385
meters per second) and at an altitude of approximately 36,400 feet (11,100
meters) above the surface. The deployment will occur with about 12,500 pounds
of force (55,600 newtons).

15 seconds later —
Separation from the heat shield

10 seconds later — Deployment
of the lander’s three shock-absorbing legs

Illustration shows simulated
view of NASA’s InSight lander descending on its parachute toward the surface of
Mars with 3 landing legs deployed. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

11:52 a.m. PST (2:52
p.m. EST) — Activation of the radar that will sense the distance to the ground

11:53 a.m. PST (2:53
p.m. EST) — First acquisition of the radar signal

20 seconds later —
Separation from the back shell and parachute

InSight lander firing retrorockets to slow down as it descends toward
the surface of Mars. C

0.5 second later — The
retrorockets, or descent engines, begin firing. The 12 descent engines
slow the spacecraft for touchdown guided by the
onboard guidance software and
radar system

12 Descent rockets fire to slow NASA Insight to soft touchdown on the
Red Planet during harrowing Entry, Descent and Landing sequence on Nov. 26,
2018. Credit: NASA JPL

 2.5 seconds later —
Start of the “gravity turn” to get the lander into the proper
orientation for landing

22 seconds later —
InSight begins slowing to a constant velocity (from 17 mph to a constant 5 mph,
or from 27 kph to 8 kph) for its soft landing

12 Descent rockets fire to slow NASA Insight to soft touchdown on the
Red Planet during harrowing Entry, Descent and Landing sequence on Nov. 26,
2018. Credit: NASA JPL 

1:54 a.m. PST (2:54
p.m. EST) — Expected touchdown on the surface of Mars at about 5 MPH.    The 12 descent engines
must cut off immediately or the lander will flip over.

Illustration shows a
simulated view of NASA’s InSight lander kicking up dust as it lands on the
Martian surface on Nov. 26, 2018.

12:01 p.m. PST (3:01 p.m.
EST) — “Beep” from InSight’s X-band radio directly back to Earth,
indicating InSight is alive and functioning on the surface of Mars

Illustration depicts the MarCO CubeSats relaying data (blue)
from NASA’s InSight lander (green) as InSight enters the Martian atmosphere

No earlier than 12:04
p.m. PST (3:04 p.m. EST), but possibly the next day — First image from InSight
on the surface of Mars

Artist’s concept depicts
the smooth, flat ground that dominates InSight’s landing ellipse in the Elysium
Planitia region of Mars.  Credits:

No earlier than 5:35
p.m. PST (8:35 p.m. EST) — Confirmation from InSight via NASA’s Mars Odyssey
orbiter that InSight’s solar arrays have deployed

concept depicts NASA’s InSight lander after it has deployed its instruments on
the Martian surface in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars with smooth, flat
ground that dominates InSight’s landing ellipse.
 Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The spacecraft is based on the design of NASA’s successful
Mars lander which touched down safely back in 2008 which arrives at a slightly
faster velocity of 12
,500 miles per hour
(5.6 kilometers per second).

Insight is also slightly heavier weighing about
1,340 pounds (608 kilograms) vs. 1,263 pounds (573 kilograms). hen it slams into the atmosphere.

InSight also will be landing
at a slightly higher elevation of “about 4,900 feet (1.5 kilometers) higher
than Phoenix did, so it has less atmosphere to use for deceleration.”

So the InSight team
has been busy for 7 years to get the spacecraft ready for Monday’s landing on
Nov. 26.

The landed probe has a
mass of
794 pounds (360 kilograms). It sports a ‘wingspan of  19
feet 8 inches (6 meters) with solar panels deployed and a width of 5 feet 1
inch (1.56 meters) (lander deck diameter)

NASA’s InSight Mars Lander
in fully landed configuration in the clean room at Lockheed Martin Space in
Littleton, Colorado. Once the solar arrays are fully deployed on Mars, they can
provide 600-700 watts on a clear day, or just enough to power a household
blender.  Credits: Lockheed Martin

InSight in an international science mission. Loaded aboard are
the two primary science instruments provided by European partners: The SEIS
seismometer and  HP3 heat flow
measuring instrument.

The SEIS seismometer instrument to detect marsquakes was provided by the Centre
National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) – the French national space agency
equivalent to NASA.  The other instrument
measuring heat flow from the Martian interior is provided by the German
Aerospace Center (DLR) and is named Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package

The HP3 hammering mole will pound about 5 meters
(16 feet) deep into Mars pulling the science heat flow cable tether along to
make heat flow and temperature measurements.  
It will pause multiple times along the way down to make detailed
measurements at different depths of heat flow from the planets core. 

After landing it will take about 2 to 3 months to lift the two
science instruments off the robots deck and deploy them onto Mars surface using
the robotic arm.

InSight is equipped
with two cameras.  One just below the
rover deck is a fisheye. The other is located at the terminus of the robotic
arm – similar to Phoenix. They will aid the team in selecting the spot for the
instruments deployments.

There is also a
weather station aboard to
continuously measure Mars local temperatures,
wind speeds and direction and pressures every day 24/7 for the first time on

aboard are 2 cubesats named
MarCO A and B  (nicknamed WALL-E and Eva) which are the first
ever interplanetary cubesats launching beyond Earth orbit and towards the Red
Planet.  They are technology demonstration experiments.  

The two briefcase sized spacecraft fly separately
and have survived the entire trip and hopefully will relay EDL data from
InSight as it plummets down to the Red Planet.

They have taken a few images, most recently on Nov 24.  

On Nov. 24, 2018 a
wide-angle camera on MarCO-B took this picture of Mars, which appears as small,
grey dot in the lower left quadrant of the image. On the right side of the
image is the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna. On the left side is the high-gain
antenna feed, as well as part of the spacecraft’s thermal blanket. Image Credit:

You can watch everything
live on landing day on
NASA TV starting at 2 p.m. EDT, 11 a.m. PST. 

The landing coverage
will also be stream live on: and 

is funded by NASA’s Discovery Program of low cost, focused science missions
along with the science instrument funding contributions from France and

Watch for Ken’s
continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin,
Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space
Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and Wallops Flight Facility,

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and
Planetary science and human spaceflight news:
– – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at

Kremer is a research scientist, journalist and photographer based in the KSC area.

Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events

Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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